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Is a Pac-12 TV contract imminent?

Also, the clash between academics and athletics isn’t going away.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 22 Washington Spring Game Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unless you’ve taken a vow of blindness to all things Pac-12 in the past year, you know the conference is seeking a new television deal that would hopefully improve upon the lackluster deal it currently has that has helped the conference fall behind its fellow Power 5 siblings.

At yesterday’s WSU Board of Regents meeting, President Kirk Schulz, while answering some rather pointed questions from board members, said this about a TV deal:

“I think it’s imminent, it’s been imminent for three months,” Schulz said, and, when pressed, put his confidence at a 7 out of 10 that the deal would be done by the end of the month. Schulz said, based on the numbers he’d seen, the revenue deal would likely be “fairly flat” compared to the amount the university has received in the past, but he noted that WSU would also benefit financially from the expansion of the College Football Playoff to 12 teams in 2024 “to the tune, likely, of several million dollars per year, per school.”

(That “fairly flat” comment is a tad worrisome, but we’ll reserve judgment until we see the final numbers. Jon Wilner seems to have some thoughts.)

Before you get excited about a deal being signed, sealed and delivered, please remember Schulz said back in February, that he thought a deal needed to be finalized by “mid-March.” Now, that’s not the same as saying a deal will get done in mid-March, but the comment nonetheless put a timeline in people’s minds. Of course, March, April and May came and went without a deal (perhaps due to layoffs at one of the partner’s offices).

Schulz’s 70% confidence in a deal being done by the time June sunsets may be his optimistic and confident attitude showing, which definitely isn’t bad, but if we wake up on July 1 and there’s no deal, that’s not going to be good optics for the conference or Schulz.

But his comments also came during a regents meeting where he and Athletic Director Pat Chun faced some rather pointed questions from board members about the athletics budget and the overall relationship between athletics and the university. Perhaps it was Schulz’s way of easing people’s minds.

Make sure you read the whole story by Kip Hill of The Spokesman-Review, as it provides some good insight to the tenable situation the university finds itself.

The regents were approving the overall athletics budget—and the plan to rectify the mistakes made that led to an $11.5 million deficit—and the approval of $1.4 million transferred from the university to athletics to help dig out of the hole. That $1.4 million is contentious because a university subsidizing its athletic department—not so uncommon, but never not controversial—will always lead to angst from the academics side of things.

Faculty Regent and math professor Judi McDonald was the lone vote against the approval of the athletics budget, which she described as a symbolic vote, and she had this to say:

“I, personally, am really struggling about where are we fitting athletics, relative to the other things the university is doing,” McDonald said. She was the lone vote against the 2024 athletics budget, though she called her vote “symbolic to say that we’ve got to do better.”

McDonald also pressed Schulz on whether the $1.4 million interest earnings that were being transferred to help cover the budget deficit had to be used for athletics.

“It feels to me like some of this money could have been used to support the academic enterprise,” McDonald said. Schulz acknowledged that money could be used for academic, rather than athletic, programs.

McDonald said after the meeting that she would have liked to have seen a broader discussion of the athletic budget’s ramifications on operations across the university.

“We need to be more deliberate about what we’re doing,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re looking across the whole system to make these decisions.”

So, the $1.4 million is clearly being used at the university’s discretion, and Schulz made it clear that the money would come mostly from interest earnings that WSU has and not tuition or state funds.

Still, this issue illustrates again the battle between athletics and academics. The two are intertwined whether people like it or not. The general rule of thought is when athletics succeed, so does the university as a whole through more applications, more donation, perhaps even national rankings, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The two easy examples are Gonzaga over the last 25 years and Alabama during the Nick Saban years. But it’s not as simple as more wins equals a higher profile for the university. Athletics teams can win all the games and trophies they want, but if the athletic department digs itself into a hole—by its own misgivings or forces out of its control—the Gonzagas and Alabamas of the world won’t be happening. Eastern Washington University, on a smaller scale, is proof.

So athletics has an approved budget and a plan to hopefully avoid the pitfalls it found itself in a year after having a budget surplus. The Pac-12’s TV deal will also go a long way in sustaining a department that does so much with so much less than its counterparts. For everybody’s sake—athletics, academics, etc.—let’s hope we never have to have this kind of regents meeting again.